Our Trip to Sitka

~ by Maria Benner

I decided to do a guest blog post today, to tell you all about our recent trip to Sitka. I have a tradition to visit places on, or around my birthday, where I’ve never been in Alaska. Since Alaska is such a big place, and some towns are only accessible by plane, or boat, my list is long. I’ve lived in Alaska for 30 years, and had never been to Sitka, the former capital of Alaska when it “belonged” to Russia. I used quotation marks, because Alaska Natives were here first.

The news has been making a big deal about how difficult it is to travel this summer, with flight cancellations being the norm, hotels and restaurants understaffed, and a high demand for all these services from travelers who have been cooped up too long during the pandemic. Well, the news was kind of right, but we didn’t really experience inconveniences to the extent that travel experts have been warning us about. Our Alaska Airlines flights were full, and on the way back, one passenger was asked to leave the plane, because he was non-revenue, so he lost his seat to a revenue passenger. He had already flown on our flight from Sitka to Juneau, but got kicked off in Juneau, and didn’t get to fly to Anchorage as he had planned. However, all our flights were on time! I was surprised at how few passengers wore masks, considering the transmission rate is high right now. All Alaska Airlines and airport employees wore masks, and so did we. I plan to always wear a mask on an airplane.

Sitka is a cruiseship port, so for most of the day the town was busy with cruiseship passengers. Lincoln Street is the main shopping district, and also where the famous St. Michael’s Orthodox Cathedral is. All the ships leave at 5pm, so after that, the town was ours! Getting lunch was our biggest challenge. All the restaurants were full, and understaffed. We had to show up to dinner at 5:30 to get a table, and had lunch at the Asian Palace both days, because it had tables available, probably since it was off the main street. I will never forget the silky, perfectly-cooked King salmon at Beak Restaurant.

Lincoln Street busy with cruiseship passengers
Deserted after the cruiseships left

We got super lucky on the weather. Last year my birthday trip was to Cordova, and it was raining sideways from every single side. This year karma really rewarded us with beautiful blue skies. I really wanted to see the famous Mt. Edgecumbe volcano, and got to see it! On our last day the cloud ceiling appeared, and blocked the tops of the mountains and the volcano.

Mt. Edgecumbe Volcano

The trip was a dream. I definitely recommend doing research about all the must-see places in Sitka, before you go there. I ended up being the guide for our little group of three: me, my mom, and Scott. They didn’t bother learning anything ahead of time, so I was in charge of our itinerary. You don’t need a car in Sitka. There are nice public buses that will take you everywhere, but you can walk to almost every attraction. My only regret was not having time to go on a hike. Two days is plenty of time to explore the most interesting places.

Next year I plan to visit Lake Clark National Park.

The Pros and Cons of Having My Studio at Home vs. a Commercial Space

It’s been a year since we moved into this new house and combined our living space with the workspace.  In 2015 I moved my studio mostly out of our home, which was a small condo in Fairview back then, to a corner space inside the 4th Avenue Market Place building.  I used to love working at home. It was easy to get to work, since the studio was just in the spare bedroom. But, I didn’t have enough space, and clients were less than impressed to see me working in a room less than 160 square feet large. Moving to the commercial space was okay, but I had a landlord and I was always worried rent would go up, or the building would sell, and I would have to move out. It was a great space with a view of the Port of Anchorage.  Although the heat was not consistent, too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, and the ventilation system didn’t function properly in a room that had huge windows that didn’t open.  There was also a lot of activity on 4th Avenue I was not too fond of. Converting the studio into a pop-up gallery for special events like First Fridays, holidays, or Fur Rondy and the Iditarod was really great! I met a lot of new people, and those events more than paid for the lease.

Old Studio on 4th Ave decked out for an event

Moving my studio into the house has been great! I get to work at home again, so I don’t have to pack a lunch, and commute on my bike in all types of weather. I can still have patrons visit the studio, and I finally have a garage where I can build painting supports, frames and sculptures. The downside is I have to find venues for First Friday art shows, and I’m not on 4th Avenue during Fur Rondy and Iditarod. But working and living in one place means I don’t have tools in two different locations, the kitchen is just upstairs and I don’t have to be worried about running power tools on the sidewalk downtown. I control the temperature of my workspace, the windows open, and I have a garage.  I have never had a private garage space in my life, since moving out of my parents’ house. When we return from an event, we can just park the truck inside, instead of having to drive to the studio to unload everything, before driving home.

New studio in our home

There were many pros to the downtown studio. I miss the view of Denali, and the Inlet.  It was very close to everything downtown, which was usually fun. I am not part of the downtown gallery scene anymore. Even though my studio was not really a gallery, it was fun to transform it temporarily into one. Now, when people come over to pickup/shop for art it’s at my home. We haven’t had a big open-to-the-public party like we used to at the downtown studio yet, and I’m not sure if we ever will. Instead, we prefer to schedule studio visits. Patrons can enjoy a home-brew while looking at my newest art. I almost always have home-brewed beer available in the garage, which is connected to my studio with just one door! Even-though I did lose something when I left downtown, the gains outweigh the losses.  This is better for me, and hopefully for you.

Summer Plans

Is it just us, or is summer crazy for everyone? I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants, and running around with my head cut off. Most of the time crunch has to do with going out to our cabin in McCarthy, which is very time consuming, but so worth the 300-mile trip one-way! Because the drive takes so long, we try to make it worth our time by spending at least a week out there. When we’re back in Anchorage, we’re catching up on painting commissions, mailing orders, doing art shows, and managing to do some house chores and hang out with our friends in between. The unrelenting summer heatwave with endless sunlight also contributes to the hyper-activity. I guess we have all winter to rest.

So, what are our summer plans? Well, Maria’s mom really loves visiting us in McCarthy, but she’s fed up with staying in our small cabin with us, so she commissioned us to build her a log cabin on our property. I’m really excited about building another log cabin, but Maria says she already built one, and is not that stoked about doing it again, because she forgot how hard it is! This project will take up most of our time, and we hope to have it completed this summer.

The foundation for the mother-in-law cabin, and some of the D logs that we have to peel for it

Other than that, we will spend most of our time working on the art business. I have two art shows happening this summer that are kicking off tomorrow on First Friday, June 3. One is my regular show at Midnight Sun Brewing that I have every year, and the second one is at a new-to-me venue, Dos Manos Gallery. I have been selling my art there for several years, but this is my first time being the featured artist in the gallery room! We hung the art there today, and I’m really happy with how it looks! I hope you check out both of my art shows, and bring your friends!

My art show at Dos Manos Gallery

We will also be vendors at two events. The first one is the Eagle River Beer & Music Festival on Saturday, June 4th. I love having a booth at beer festivals, because that’s where I find fans of my beer art! We will also be participating in the Beer, Beards and Art Market at Anchorage Brewing Co. on June 18th, 4-9pm.

Besides work, and building a cabin, we’re flying to Sitka to celebrate Maria’s birthday. She likes going to places in Alaska for her birthday that she’s never been to. Of course, Salmonfest is not-to-be-missed, and then Maria’s cousin from Germany is coming to visit with her two sons, so we’ll get to do some Alaska tourist activities with them, which are always amazing!

I hope to see you at some of these events this summer, and if I don’t, I wish you a safe and fun summer! What are your plans this summer?

Tok Thai Food

Tok Thai Food by Scott Clendaniel, 20″x16″, oil on canvas

My Aunt Barbara took a photo of a raven sitting on top of the Tok Thai Food establishment on her drive back from a visit to McCarthy, and I got her permission to make a painting based on her photo. According to a review on Yelp, Tok Thai Food has the best Panang Curry in Alaska.  I’m going to get some on my way back from McCarthy next time.  This roadside restaurant is an enigma, and I don’t know much about it. All I could find online were the menu and a bunch of positive reviews. The official website’s title page calls it Tok Tdai Food.  I have always had a good meal there, but is it really “t’die” for?  So, why is Tok Thai Food in Glennallen, and not in Tok?  The questions keep on rolling. Why is the best food in Glennallen, Thai food? Why is the best Thai food in Alaska located in Glennallen? Who owns this place? Who is making this delicious food?

What I do know is that I love stopping at this crossroad on my way back from McCarthy, and taking a minute, or 20 to get out of the truck, get some gas, and have fresh food. Making a stir fry from old cabbage, a spotty squash, and some canned chicken at the cabin in McCarthy may fill my belly, but it is far from what you get at Tok Thai Food. I think it’s the location that makes it so special. Strategically located at the T, where the Glenn Highway meets the Richardson.  If you are going to Chitina to dipnet, or want to go to Valdez, you drive right past it.  If you want to go to Tok, Whitehorse, Haines or Seattle, you will also drive right past it.  It is four hours from Anchorage, and four hours from the Canadian border, perfectly located for lunch.  

I painted this iconic sign because it represents returning to civilization. After a month in the Wrangell Mountains, a hot meal is welcome.  The Radio Shack sign in Glennallen advertising hot pizza is alluring, but they don’t actually have hot pizza, or at least not when I have been there.  The Freeze has long since closed its doors. The IGA may have some sandwiches and deli snacks, but it is far from excellent.  The raven in this painting symbolizes wilderness to me, and the bright yellow manufactured plastic sign, humanity.  After washing hands in the gas station, and getting a crispy fried egg-roll, it feels good to know, that yes, they do sell auto parts within the Glennallen city limits. This painting is about the balance of going to the wilderness to reduce stress by leaving the trappings of the city behind, while in the wilderness there is a different kind of stress of knowing you only have what you brought with you. It is good to change it up, find the ataraxia (Greek for balance), remind yourself what is important in your life, and you will find your inner peace.        

The original oil painting on canvas will be on display, and available for sale at my art show at Dos Manos Gallery in June and July. The art opening reception will take place on First Friday, June 3, 5-8pm. I will also have some prints available.

Arctic Comic Con 2022

Have you ever watched Tim Allen’s Galaxy Quest?  You know how they are sitting at the Comic Con, signing photographs, before they leave the planet with the aliens? I wonder what it would be like to be the aliens who took off with famous actors.  I never thought I would attend a Comic Con, but always thought they kinda looked like fun.  This weekend was my first ever, and I was lucky enough to go to Arctic Comic Con as a vendor. I knew that Tom Arnold was going to be there, but  I didn’t expect to see Bai Ling, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Michael Biehn, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, Wallis Day, and Keith Coogan.  The event was postponed a couple times due to the pandemic, and a lot of people had been waiting for it, and had extra time to work on their costumes. 

Before the event picked up, there was a VIP time period and very few people were there. I decided I would go and say hi to the stars.  I didn’t talk to everyone, but I did talk about hockey with Tom Arnold and told Keith Coogan I have been quoting his most famous line from Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter is Dead, “The dishes are done, man!”  every time I finish doing the dishes.  I asked what their plans were for getting out and seeing Alaska.  I was surprised to find out they had not made any plans, they didn’t have a car rented, and they were flying out right after the convention.  One of my patrons, Sig Larsen, was in attendance. He said he was rallying the troops to go to Whittier, but didn’t have a car. I made a lot more sales than I expected, so I had to make more prints, pack cards and frame pieces for my booth, so I couldn’t offer to take anyone anywhere, but I bet Keith Coogan and Wallis Day would have gone with me to Girdwood and back, if I had offered. 

What was awesome about Comic Con, other than bringing my product direct to market, was the welcoming attitude and friendly atmosphere that this particular culture presents.  You could tell a complete stranger you liked their costume, shirt, shoes, or whatever bling they were toting, and get an enthusiastic “thank you!”.  I talked to people until my voice was worn out and then I had a beer and kept on going.  I was amazed at the creativity of the costumes, but I didn’t recognize about 40% of the anime references.  If you can tell me what comic character looks like Princess Jasmine on the top and Aladdin on the bottom, with a samurai sword, I would be very happy to know.

By the end of the second day my brain had turned to mush, and my inventory was low.  I traded a print of Mando drinking a beer with baby Yoda (yes I know his name is Grogu) for a copy of Richard Griffith’s, Bubba Ship 1 A Redneck Adventure. Then, Keith Coogan came over and brought me a free signed plate and took a selfie with us.  I was thinking of buying one, but I just didn’t know what I would do with a signed plate. Well, it looks great in my glass display case that I just got for the studio, and I will always remember that he is a good guy.  Maria gave them a print of Pac-Man drinking beer, because Keith’s wife was wearing a Pac-Man dress and shoes. She said it would look great in their arcade room. 

Cheers to doing something different, meeting new friends, and getting product to market!  I’ll go to Comic Con again next time.  

My Workspace is Finally Ready for Studio Visits!

Our neighbors just listed their house for sale today, which reminded me of our journey exactly a year ago of buying and moving into this house with my studio on the first floor.  We looked at over 30 houses and there was always something wrong with the room I was planning to work in, or we just didn’t make the best offer over asking price.  Lack of access for large paintings was the main problem.  Anchorage is full of split entry homes, just like the one I grew up in.  Now I live in one again, and it’s frankly comforting, yet a little bit odd at the same time.  When we first moved in, the whole studio room was four different shades of orange.  My first studio improvement project, aside from moving all my stuff in, was to return the walls to a regular shade of white.  Next, we got a new large-format printer and rolled it into place. This house has great access to the studio directly from the garage!

Then we were busy with the Christmas rush, after wrapping up the last of my public art projects, and the Arctic Valley Ski Map design. In February, I upgraded my computer set-up, and finally got a Wacom tablet hooked back up. I thought the iPad would replace the Wacom tablet, but I find that it is best to have both working, and bouncing projects back and forth between platforms.  Maria started asking when I would be ready to work on the studio to make it more presentable. There were still bins of paintings from the old studio, and heaps of frames, and studio stuff piled up. I was reluctant to start, but when she found a great deal on used cabinets and countertops from Alaska Denali Winery, I got to work.  Carefully removing cabinetry is a skill on its own. Maria was budgeting most of April on the studio re-vamp, but it only took most of a week.  I also found a new (to me) desk, and I am glad to say I no longer am using a plastic folding table for my CPU workstation.  A year after moving into our house, my work space is finally set up!

I spent four days last month brewing beer, and I love to share it with both clients and friends.  We can have small studio get-togethers now that the place is presentable.  The studio is my favorite place in the house.  I love it so much, and I am so grateful to be working and living in a place that is all our own.  I can’t wait for you to stop over to see what I have been up to and share a glass of my home-brewed: West Coast IPA, Dark Ale, Hazy IPA, or a bottle pour of the world-famous Drippy Hippy ginger honey beer.  Let me know when you can make it over.

No more plastic storage bins! Everything is organized in new (to us) cabinets.
Several oil paintings are displayed on a rack by JQA Designs
My main work station for painting.

Montucky Cold Snacks Beer Painting

Montucky Cold Snacks is a light and refreshing beer, just like a good “adventure” beer should be.  For this painting I imagined three white horses prancing around a Montana ranch, while a cool farm hand stands watching by the property’s fence, sipping on a Cold Snacks at the end of a long day of ranchin’.  It is this type of dream of Montana that inspired this beer to be made, and inspired me to paint this composition.

I love a good, cold, American-style lager. It is the perfect beer for after a long, hard, sweat-filled workday, or a grueling play day.  I would drink it on a box, I would drink it with a fox. I would drink it here, I would drink it there! Basically, I could drink Montucky Cold Snacks anywhere! The cool thing about this beer, is the brewery donates 8% of its profits back to local causes.  Remember, the first two are for hydration. 

The original oil painting, and signed prints are available at my Etsy shop.

Montucky Cold Snacks Beer Painting by Scott Clendaniel. 11″x14″, oil on panel.

 

Plein Air Painting at Ski Resorts, Part V: Big Sky Resort, Montana

Big Sky Resort in Montana was our last destination of the epic ski trip inspired by the Mountain Collective pass.  Maria and I left Wyoming behind, and drove to the wild state of Montana.  We felt like we would be needing a vacation after this ski vacation!  We checked into the most amazing motel called the Sapphire Motel in Bozeman.  I can’t believe how cool Bozeman is! We walked to the Bozeman Brewery, which was spot on, and we had great brews with views, and a meal at Mountains Walking Brewery!  Mountains Walking has a great vibe, and reminded me of Anchorage Brewing Company mixed with Glacier Brewhouse. Good beer and good food!  

The drive from Bozeman to Big Sky Resort is about an hour on a beautiful, winding road.  We happened to be there on Presidents Day weekend, so the resort was really busy.  There is a problem at Big Sky with getting from the mountain village to the ski bowl where the snow hasn’t all blown away.  The mountain planners really screwed up when they put the Ramcharger 8-seat chair lift going to Everett’s Restaurant, instead of the Swift 6-seat chair accessing the tram and Power Seeker lift.  Another problem is that there are a lot of exposed rocks all over the mountain.  You should not take your favorite skis to Big Sky.  So after a 20-minute lift line you get on the amazing heated bubble chair lift.  I hear if you go in the singles line it is a bit faster. This chair lift is so spectacular! You don’t even have to ski up to it, just stand on the magic carpet that loads you onto the lift.  The bubble is blue and the bar automatically lifts when you arrive to the top.  Amazing! 

The forecast predicted snow the next day. After gouging up my skis on rocks for a couple of runs that looked good, but were actually treacherous, I decided that I should paint really soon.  I chose a spot that I thought was great: it overlooked the tram and the Powder Seeker lift, and had a view of Lone Peak, and I was protected from wind. About halfway through the painting, ski patrol showed up. Ski patrol is really funny in Big Sky — the new uniform is all black with bright neon green plus symbols.  When driving around Montana you see similar symbols at cannabis dispensaries.  I joked with Maria that the ski patrol at Big Sky was actually weed patrol!  Ski patrol told me I was in an area where rocks sometimes slide off the mountain. This guy obviously was low on the totem pole, because he was wearing an old classic red uniform with a white cross. He asked me to move into a horrible windy area where I proceeded to almost ruin my painting with blowing snow that promptly melted on the surface of my painting. 

A bit windy at Lone Peak
Less than ideal painting conditions at Big Sky Resort

Annoyed with that painting experience, I packed up, and we took the Ramcharger chair lift to Everett’s Restaurant.  You have to wait to be seated, and we got seats at the bar.  The bartender was absolutely crazy!  It was busy, and he was the only guy making drinks, but DAMN, it was like being at a Gallagher show. Spraying ice, alcohol, and breaking glass left and right.  I was glad I wasn’t worried about my clothes, and that I had a beer in my hand, because it was not a relaxing experience. I ordered a ridiculously expensive Waygu beer burger, and Maria had the bison chili. The burger was enormous — we should have shared it. We escaped, and I put the remaining half of the burger into my pocket, and we skied a bit more before driving back to Bozeman. We went to a little brewery called Last Best Place. It was not busy and also not bad. 

The next day it was snowing on the mountain, so I was glad I had already painted.  I wanted to find the other on-mountain food lodge, so we skied over to the Shedhorn lift and then over to the Dakota 3 lift.  It was beginning to snow pretty hard and the Dakota area actually was pretty fun as long as you jumped over any super sketch rocks that were hidden behind every south-facing slope.  Maria and I found the Shedhorn Grill, which had a vibe of what skiing at Big Sky must have been like 20 years ago.  It was just a yurt with a wood stove in it, and a grill outside. Prices were much better here and I didn’t even feel like I was at the same resort.  The snow was really picking up, which made for bad visibility, but better skiing.  Maria wanted to go back to the powder bowl, so we made our way back to the busy side of the mountain.  Since visibility was bad, we had a much better time!  The lift line had disappeared. I think I skied the Powder Seeker 12 times in a row, which isn’t that much, since it is only 800 vertical feet. It was great, because it felt like skiing the Glacier Bowl at Alyeska.  

Maria told me we should get ahead of the weather and traffic getting back to Bozeman. So we left about an hour early.  We tailgated for about 15 minutes, and the snow was picking up even more.  Tailgating turned out to be a very bad idea, because as we drove out in the four new inches of snow we got stuck behind an accident, which caused a 2 hour delay while we waited for the road to be cleared.  Then the hour-long drive back to Bozeman took over 2 hours, since we could only drive 30 mph in the storm in the dark. The 2WD 4Runner was terrible in the fresh snow. It was squirrelly when accelerating, and breaking was also a problem.  Maria white-knuckled it back to the Sapphire Motel like a pro, but she wouldn’t drive to a brewery for dinner, so we walked across the street to a Mexican food truck. 

The next day was a problem, because the rental car return was not at the airport, and Bozeman was experiencing a snow-day.  We couldn’t get a cab or a Lyft/Uber to the airport.  Maria asked for a ride from a nice guy who was out buying feed for his chickens.  Our flight was delayed, making our layover in Seattle about 15 minutes long.  We have never sprinted that fast through an airport before. It was like that airport scene in Home Alone. We made it to our seats and then back to Anchorage. Three of our four bags miraculously were loaded onto our flight, and I picked up the large duffel bag the next morning.  I was so happy to be back in Anchorage and driving my 4WD, 4- studded-tire-shod, Chevy truck.  Phew! I had a great time, but I will think twice before I buy the Mountain Collective pass again.  It is hard to go on ski vacation! I hope you liked all the little paintings! Stay tuned for larger versions with….you guessed it beer! 

This painting is available at my Etsy shop. I’m selling it for the price of a lift ticket at Big Sky Resort.

Lone Peak at Big Sky Resort, 7″ x 5″, oil on panel.

Plein Air Painting at Ski Resorts, Part IV: Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Rocking down the highway! Maria and I made the longest leg of our journey in mild snow — seven and a half hours.  Did I tell you our all-wheel-drive rig turned out to be a rear-wheel-drive 4Runner with Texas plates?  I don’t know anything about Toyotas, except I know a lot of people love them.  When we got to Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Albuquerque, and the attendant was helping us pick out an AWD or 4WD vehicle, he suggested the 4Runner. It looked tough, and had a lot of clearance.  It didn’t occur to us that Toyota makes two-wheel-drive 4Runners. Well, I learned that it is common to sell RWD versions in Texas. Basically, it was a 4Runner-shaped minivan, worse though, because it wasn’t front-wheel-drive. We figured this out a couple days into our trip, and didn’t feel like wasting our time on vacation to exchange the vehicle.  The light snow wasn’t a big deal, but when the Google Maps directions took us on a dirt road over a mountain pass, I started to get the nervous sweats.  “No problem,” I told Maria, “This thing has decent tires, and probably has a good posi-track in the rear”.  Well, we made it fine, fishtailing up the dirt hills at 45mph on the dirt road in a 55 mph zone. 

Surprising enough, when we hit Wyoming the “highway” we were on became paved.  We drove into a pretty steady snowstorm right next to Yellowstone NP, and were enjoying watching the snowmobilers run along the side of the road.  I had already experienced the lack of traction the “2Runner” offered in the snowstorm back in Silverthorne, CO, so I was glad to see the road was still free of ice and snow.  The snow picked up as we hit the Hoback Ranches and had yet another mountain pass before Jackson.  We made it into the Jackson Super 8 and parked for the night hoping it would only snow in the mountains and not on the roads.

Our friend Melanie met up with us to go skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and we had high energy as we parked in the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) parking lot at no charge, because we had 3 passengers. When I told my friends I was going to be skiing at JHMR I received a lot of texts about The Corbett’s Couloir, and the Kings and Queens of Corbett’s event.  I watched the videos and decided if I were to drop into Corbett’s Couloir, I would want to have a much softer powder day. That run is crazy!  In order to access it you have to make a leap of faith, about 15ft in icy conditions and 5ft in soft powder conditions, just to access the narrow chute. A very cool coincidence is that the Kings and Queens of Corbett’s happened on our second day there!  We watched from the top of Tensleep Bowl, where a small crowd had formed to watch the Reb Bull sponsored event. There were no blue runs down from this view spot, only steep off-piste mogul-entrenched black diamond runs. It was clear some of the spectators were out of their comfort zone when descending, as they sat there at the top looking down with worried looks on their faces. The event was crazy!  Basically anything sponsored by Red Bull is something I will not even consider competing in.  I got a cool video of a skier doing some inverted aerials down the cliff infested couloir.  And later in the day I painted from inside the Rendezvous Lodge while I had an afternoon beer. It was very windy out, so I was happy to be behind window glass. I could see the competition from the window and also on a TV monitor, sporting a 15-second delay. It was lucky I did the painting at that time, because the blue skies faded to whiteout conditions before I completed the painting. I was able to put Corbett’s Couloir in the painting, so I felt like this painting was a success! We had mixed snow conditions for the two days we were skiing JHMR.  It was actually pretty great!  A couple of inches of snow covered up some of the icy patches.  Enough to make skiing a joy, but not enough to make me feel comfortable hucking cliffs. 

Pointing at Corbett’s Couloir
Painting at the bar, because it was so windy outside.

The town of Jackson is cute and awesome! We went to two different breweries: Melvin Brewing, which started in the back of a Thai food establishment, and the Roadhouse. Both were quite good!  The Super 8 was okay, and we were not too sad when we drove out of town towards Big Sky, MT.  I was happy because I still had two days of skiing left and Big Sky has the largest skiable terrain of all the mountains we were visiting on the trip. I felt like I had ridden everything in JHMR I was going to, with the way the conditions had been.  Very glad to not be injured, and stoked the trip was still underway! Our friend Melanie stayed and skied for a third day, and said she had a killer time on the mountain, and afterwards at the rough and tumble Million Dollar Cowboy Bar!     

This painting is available at my Etsy shop. I’m selling it for the price of a lift ticket at Jackson Hole.

Jackson Hole, 7″ x 5″, oil on panel.

Plein Air Painting at Ski Resorts, Part III: Aspen Mountain

Aspen is one of those places that holds a special place in American ski culture.  Movies like Aspen Extreme, and Dumb and Dumber have placed it in any skier’s back pocket as a must ski.  Aspen Snowmass Resort encompasses four mountains, all with their special amenities.  Snowmass is huge, and has a wide variety of terrain.  It has gondolas and high speed lifts galore. Snowmass is on point, and doesn’t fail to deliver a great skiing experience.  I think my favorite part about it is the wide open skiing boulevards that a hundred skiers can utilize all at once without even thinking about hitting each other.  We didn’t get to check out Buttermilk, but it offers easier terrain suited for beginner skiers, and also has a huge terrain park for young people who want to pull off a triple corkscrew, while capturing video with their mom’s iPhone.  Aspen Highlands is probably amazing on a powder day, with its long steep runs, and its famous Highland Bowl.  I didn’t get to go to Aspen Highlands because we only had two tickets, and I wanted to go to the world famous OG Aspen Mountain.  

The Monday after the Super Bowl, Maria and I crawled out of bed and made our way to reclaim our skis from the pro-shop in the village at Snowmass.  Maria had a full tune done, and I had ordered a hot wax treatment. After getting our skis out of hawk we went back down the hill to the parking lot and awaited a bus to take us to Aspen Mountain.  The bus driver was really grumpy!  I have been in so many ski busses, and normally the drivers love their jobs. One time I even had a bus driver give me a replacement loaner ski pole when I broke one of mine.  Not this one. It became comical, as she was yelling at passengers, other drivers, and it overall felt like a bit straight out of Saturday Night Live.  This bus made every stop at Snowmass,  Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and then through the town of Aspen. When we arrived at the base of Aspen Mountain, we jumped off a bit early as we didn’t want to bring on the wrath by asking where our stop was. I waited a good two minutes while she drove away before even thinking of crossing the road. I was sure she would run me over just out of spite.  

Aspen Mountain is a wonderful place to ski! On our gondola ride to the top, a local gentleman gave us a bird-eye tour. He told us the history of the area, where to ski and were we could have lunch.  Aspen Snowmass has done a great job with outdoor seating on mountain.  Vistas looking over Aspen Highlands and the Valley were matched with picnic tables and Adirondack chairs.  We shared an early day beer and ripped some corduroy. The grooming was immaculate. We were there on yet another Colorado bluebird “packed powder” day… AKA icy conditions.  I wasn’t there to get the best snow (although it would have been nice). It seems we have plenty of that back home here in Alaska.  I was there for ski culture, and that is what we found.  All the black diamonds needed a bit more snow. All I found on the off-piste slopes was mixed rocks and chest high moguls.  Maria and I went to the Sundeck Lodge for a cookie, and I executed my third little plein-air painting of the trip.  It was still a bit early for lunch, so I pretty much had the deck to myself to start out. Gorgeous views and wonderful sunny weather made painting this one a dream.  Maria got a free cookie for using her Aspen app on her phone, and munched half of it before heading out for a run, while I wrapped up my little piece.  Upon completion, I tried the cookie and packed up.  A trio of Canadian Jays, just like the ones we endure in McCarthy, came to visit.  I broke up the cookie and told the other people on the deck to “watch this.” Sure enough the hungry little buggers ate right from my hand. I impressed the onlookers more with my bird whispering skills than I did with my painting. 

Beautiful blue sky at Aspen Mountain!

I met Maria on my way out and she complained about the top lift taking forever to go 1/3 of the way up the hill.  We avoided it for the rest of the day and had a lovely lunch at Bonnie’s restaurant at mid-mountain. It reminded me of the Roundhouse at Sun Valley. I had a hearty soup.  It was Valentine’s Day, so we felt like we were on a date. We skied the rest of the mountain after lunch. I wanted to find a way up the mountain other than the gondola, which took a couple of runs, because I kept making wrong turns.  A good mountain guide on a new mountain can be really useful! 

I loved skiing at Aspen and Snowmass! I would not rule out a return visit, but next time I will stay longer than two days, so I can also ride Aspen Highlands, and hope for better snow! At least the visibility was excellent.  I was well aware of the giant moguls and rocks that were all over the place.  That evening we had a wonderful dinner at a cute little Thai restaurant in Basalt. We woke up the next morning to drive what seemed like a million miles past Yellowstone NP up to Jackson, Wyoming! Stay tuned next week for my plein-air painting, and mountain report of Jackson Hole.

Here is the little painting I painted on the mountain. You can purchase it at my Etsy shop for the price of a lift ticket at Aspen Mountain.

Aspen Mountain, painted en plein air (outside, on location). 7″x5″, oil on panel.